The lightning bolts are back, and Juan Pablo Montoya hopes they'll help him catch lightning in a bottle after unveiling a 'retro' paint scheme for his #42 Target Chevrolet that resembled that which he took to victory in the 2000 Indianapolis 500.
Alternative paint schemes are nothing new in NASCAR racing but, in Montoya's case, the look of the Target car served to reinforce the possibility of an important milestone come Sunday. Already the only driver to compete in the three most significant disciplines at the Brickyard - Sprint Cup, IndyCar and Formula One - Montoya could become the first driver to win both the Indy 500 and the Allstate 400. The only other former Indy 500 winner in the Allstate 400 field is 2006 winner Sam Hornish Jr, who was eleventh fastest in Friday's second practice session.
Montoya's Sprint Cup and IndyCar sat side-by-side at the Brickyard on Friday, while the Colombian appeared in a firesuit that matched the uniform he wore in 2000 before going second fastest in each of the day's two Cup practice sessions. He came close to the double during his 2007 rookie season, when he finished second to Tony Stewart at Indy and, last year, was running in the top five when a blown tyre ended his chances and dropped him to a 39th-place result.
“It would be a huge accomplishment, to be able to win both races,” Montoya admitted, “We've been close. I finished second already in one of these, and last year I was running fourth when I blew up a tyre, so we've had a chance. We just need a little bit of consistency, and we've just got to keep it running.”
The idea for the retro paint scheme originated in the marketing and promotion department at Target, which is in its 20th year of sponsorship for Ganassi's racing efforts, and Montoya and Ganassi embraced the idea enthusiastically.
“I don't want to say any particular names, but I know it came from way up in Target,” Montoya said, “When they asked me, I thought it was an amazing idea. I would run it like that every week.”
Ganassi allowed himself a moment of nostalgia.
“Obviously, coming here with this paint job brings back a lot of good memories,” he said, remembering his two Indy 500 wins as a team owner, “I'll never forget that May of 2000, dominating the race like Juan did [leading 167 of 200 laps]. It was such a glorious day in the history of our racing teams.”
As important as the Allstate 400 is, however, Montoya said he won't let his desire to win the race and make history distract him from his most important goal - qualifying for the twelve-driver Chase for the Championship. With seven races left before the field is set, on 12 September at Richmond, Montoya is ninth in the Cup standings but only 36 points ahead of 13th-place Greg Biffle.
“Right now, it's all about the Chase,” he conceded, “Unless you're leading and you have a great car, I don't think you need to take a risk [on Sunday]. It's bad, but that's the way it is. We need to get in the Chase, and we're doing everything we can to get in.”
by Reid Spencer / Sporting News NASCAR Wire Service